M. Shahid Alam article
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jul 28 09:13:37 MDT 2003
I want to call comrades' attention to an article by M. Shahid Alam (our
own M. Junaid Alam's father) that appears on the Counterpunch website:
It is titled "A Short History: The Global Economy Since 1800" and can be
described as an unabashed defense of the kind of core-periphery analysis
pioneered by Sweezy and Baran, and that came under attack by Robert
Brenner and others in the 1970s. Although it does not refer to the
Brenner thesis, the article defends a perspective on the origins of
capitalism that is usually associated with Paul Sweezy:
"Although Marx did not worry too much about the origins of capitalism-he
saw its precursors in the burghers of medieval towns, the growing
commerce stimulated by the discoveries, and the system of Atlantic
trade-he was reasonably certain that the system he was describing was
fully developed or nearly so."
In contrast, Brenner (and Ellen Wood et al) think that it originated in
the English countryside when land rent began to replace tribute in kind.
The article contains many valuable insights and empirical data that give
the lie to the sort of Panglossian version of economic reality presented
by J. Brad Delong and other apologists for capitalism. He cites Paul
Bairoch's "Disparities in economic development since the Industrial
Revolution", a work that I have consulted frequently in the past in
order to understand unequal development:
"The centralizing tendencies of Core capital acted strongly and quickly.
By 1913, according to Bairoch (1982: 296, 304), two-thirds of the
world's manufactures were concentrated in four Core countries: Britain,
United States, Germany and France. In 1750, their combined share had
stood at less than a tenth. At the same time, the Core countries reduced
vast areas of the world-nearly all of Asia, Africa, Central America and
the Caribbean-to colonies, open-door countries or dependencies, which
were converted to the production of primary exports. Those parts of the
Periphery that enjoyed various degrees of political autonomy were
luckier. By 1950, many of them had developed indigenous capital, skills
"The contradiction between the Core and dependent Periphery was on
display, most transparently, in the widening gap between the living
standards of the two economic areas. According to Bairoch (1981),
Britain had roughly the same per capita income as Asia in 1800; but, in
1950, it had gained a lead of close to six to one. Africa suffered a
similar decline in its relative position. On an average, the sovereign
parts of the Periphery did not face a decline in their relative position
during this period."
I do have one quibble with M. Shahid, however, about the relevance of
Marx. He writes:
"Marx predicted … proletarian revolution. Led by the communist party,
the workers would overthrow the capitalists, abolish markets, socialize
ownership and production, and lay the foundations of a new social formation.
"History did not oblige Karl Marx. There would be no proletarian
revolutions in the advanced industrial countries, where capitalist
contradictions were most ripe for the overthrow of capitalism."
Unfortunately, this does not take into account the Thermidor in the USSR
which resulted in the creation of Communist Parties that shrank from the
task of socialist revolution, even as they were often carrying out
excellent work as democratic reformers and militant trade unionists.
There *were* proletarian revolutions in Europe on an almost continuous
basis since 1917. Their failure to culminate in the seizure of power
does not invalidate Karl Marx; it only confirms the Leninist dictum that
without a revolutionary party, there cannot be revolutions.
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